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Backpacking around Scotland without a car - A firsthand experience
I want to share my story of how going on an epic road trip does not require you to drive a car. Most of my 400+ comments refer to my own experiences of seeing the country by public transport. Creating this thread to talk about my single longest solo trip's motivations, the execution, highlights, and lowlights. You can find detailed reports of the trip broken down by day on my travel blog Beyond Our Horizons
I planned to take a sabbatical from work around 5 years into my career when I realized how woefully short on practical skills I am. I grew up in India and never learned how to camp or drive with most of my time spent in academics till the age of 24 followed by a tech job. So I threw myself into the deep end and camped for an entire month as my first camping trip. The other main motivation was to reach parts of Scotland that I normally couldn't on my typical week-long trips which I took once a year.
- The only planning I had done before the trip is making a list of the places that I deemed as a must-see through the month. This list included areas like Orkney, Torridon, Isle of Harris, Isle of Skye and Islay.
- The other key piece of research I did pre-trip was confirming that one can usually get a pitch in any managed campsite as long as they had a small tent and no car (including on the Isle of Skye, which actually is quite full during the summer, pictured). This is the key reason I decided to keep camping and using public transport as the two core elements of my trip.
- As the Scottish weather is unpredictable, I spent the entire trip chasing good weather as long as it led me to check off one of the areas off my list. As an example, I had planned to kick off my trip at the Glentrool campsite in Dumfries and Galloway but saw on the train up to Glasgow that the region was being battered by a storm. So I looked up the Scottish weather forecast for the next 2 days and switched up my destination to the Spey Bridge campsite near Newtonmore in the Cairngorms National Park to spend two sunny days in the area.
- The predictable consequence of chasing the weather is that I had to cross most of the country 3 distinct times to get to a location on my list with good weather. The longest one of these Scotland crossings involved me getting to Stromness from Stornoway. On the plus side, this crossing helped me see my first Highland games at Inverness.
- My campsite checkout process was boiled down to a science. I'd start 2 hours before the scheduled transport departure from the nearest stop, take 30 minutes to an hour to pack my backpack and start walking to the bus stop/train station. I needed to walk half a mile on average and it takes more time than usual while carrying a 12 kg backpack. I recommend buying all tickets on the bus or on the train (unless the ticket office is open).
Trip highlights and lowlights
+ I was able to visit many of my favourite distilleries (mostly on Islay
) for the first time. Using public transport really helps in visiting distilleries on back-to-back days as the responsibility of driving is in the hands of the bus driver.
+ I got to see the beauty of Scotland in all its glory - the rugged landscapes of Torridon, the stone age artifacts on Orkney, the sandy beaches on the Road to the Isles and so much more while learning a new life skill. I even got to visit the Ring of Brodgar in 26C temperatures.
- Some connections are terribly inefficient as the timetables of the different modes of transport are not guaranteed to be integrated. I found myself sitting around needlessly at a bus stop or a ferry terminal for more than an hour a few times on this trip. Similarly, I have had train/bus cancellations which really snowball into big delays as there are so few journeys a day in the remote parts of Scotland.
- I learned to steer clear of destinations that are request stops on a bus route. I was left stranded at a request stop at one location. In another instance, I could make a request stop to get to a certain village but was expected to walk 8 km to the official start of the bus route
. Thankfully, was given a lift after walking 4 km by a very kind family with 2 dogs.
- After one point in time, solo travel became unbearably lonely. This did make meeting up with my lovely partner an absolute joy at the end of the trip. The views are only the most beautiful if shared with someone you love. I felt this the most standing at this spot near Torridon.
Did you find the content useful? Then head on over to the Beyond Our Horizons blog
to read up on my travel descriptions for the other 15 countries I have visited or follow us on Facebook
. We are looking forward to visiting the Outer Hebrides next month!
I'm Anirudh, an Indian travel blogger who has explored a lot of Scotland by public transport. My blog
. Find me on Facebook
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itinerary (fully by public transport)My Scotland travels
, Loch Lomond